Boris Johnson is expected to meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar privately in the northwest of England for last-ditch Brexit talks on Thursday.
According to No 10, the meeting is vital as an opportunity for both leaders and their teams to “have detailed discussions” to facilitate a way forward by circumnavigating the perennial obstacle that is the potential implementation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Ahead of a crunch EU summit on 17 and 18 October, high-level talks will also take place in Brussels between Brexit secretary Steve Barclay and EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday morning.
EU’s “serious concerns” with British Brexit plans
News of the scheduled meetings comes in the wake of claims from a Downing Street source earlier that talks were on the verge of collapse, after the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier offered a public rebuttal of the current Brexit plan point-by-point.
In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Barnier listed to three “serious concerns” with British plans.
Firstly, he stated they did not prevent a customs border.
“There will be controls spread out across Ireland and it will largely be based on exemptions and derogations on technology that has yet to be developed. "Changes to international law through the common transit convention but with none of the guarantees that should be set out in this protocol,” he said.
“We need operational, real controls – credible controls. We’re talking about the credibility of the single market here to consumers, companies, and third countries that we negotiate agreements with,” said Barnier.
The second objection was that the proposals were not actually “legally operable”, with the EU official emphasising that the UK was iun fact asking to come up with the answers to manage the border is recognised during the transmisson pyramid.
“By taking away that safety net, the backstop, and looking for alternative solutions later in the transition period, that British proposal does not give us that same security that we have in the backstop,” he stated.
Finally, the EU Brexit negotiator rejected the veto British plans would give to the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive, which would have to vote on them every four years.
“Unfortunately, the British proposals as it stands simply has the implementation of the protocol based on a unilateral decision on the Northern Irish authorities who could decide right from the very start – the day after the ratification – simply not to activate the proposed solution for Northern Ireland. Even if it were to be implemented, every four years they could call this into question,” said Barnier.
Barnier criticssed the proposals as representing “a significant risk to the integrity of the single market” and warned:
“Time is pressing. We are one week away from the European Council summit and just a few weeks away from the date of 31 October”.
Brexit negotiations balancing on the precipice
On 2 October, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a proposed plan to take his country out of the EU, which offered to substitute the so-called Irish backstop with an alternative option that would create a regulatory zone in Ireland with minimum border checks.
However, it was anticipated to face fierce opposition from EU leaders from the start, and surely enough, negotiators in Brussels crushed Boris Johnson’s reworked Brexit proposals.
Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on 31 October, even if there is no deal in place by that date.
However, a cross-party motion in Parliament passed a bill that blocks him from doing so, obliging him to request a Brexit delay if no deal is agreed by 19 October.
The stand-off with MPs paves the way for a new election later this year, possibly as early as November.